The origin of the Haflinger can be traced back to medieval times when writings told of an indigenous Oriental breed of horse that was found in the Southern Tyrolean Mountains on the border of present day Austria and northern Italy. Many villages and farms of the Tyrol were accessible only by narrow paths requiring small, agile, rugged and surefooted mountain horses for daily transportation and packing supplies. So, for centuries, a line of these native horses was bred in southern Tyrol. They were general riding horses, light draft and harness horses as well as pack animals. Regional artwork in the early 1800's shows a noble chestnut horse with riders and packs traversing steep mountain trails.
In 1874, in the village of Hafling, Austria, (which after WWI is now in Italy), "249 Folie", the first registered Haflinger was born. He was sired by a royal half-Arabian stallion named "133 El' Bedavi XXII" and out of a refined native Tyrolean mare.
All modern purebred Haflingers must trace their ancestry directly to Folie through seven different stallion lines: A, B, M, N, S, ST, and W. Folie inherited his mother's strength, disposition and stamina and the refined, elegant grace and bone structure of his father. A year later, an influential count persuaded officials from the Austrian Imperial Ministry of Agriculture to establish an objective Haflinger breeding program. After the stallion Folie, crossing with a horse from another breed is not permitted on either side of the stallion or the mare. Pure breeding is the primary guideline of the American Haflinger Registry(AHR) in Rootstown, Ohio, which is the official breed association and studbook registry in the United States.
The Haflinger came to North America in 1958 when Tempel Smith of Illinois, imported them from Austria to begin a breeding program. Soon others began importing Haflingers and today there several importers and breeders throughout the United States and Canada. While Haflingers can be imported from Germany, Holland, England, and Italy, most continue to come from Austria.
The modern Haflinger is now found all over the world, active in such varied disciplines as dressage, jumping, vaulting, packing, pleasure driving, CDE, western trail riding, CTE, endurance riding, draft work and therapeutic riding programs. Haflingers hold their own in competition with other breeds, often showing surprising athletics and strength for their size.
A desirable appearance of the horse is one of elegance and harmony. A harmonious balance should be strived for that is suitable for an all-around pleasure horse. The Haflinger should have a lean and expressive head with large forward pointing eyes and wide nostrils, well formed neck and supple mid-section, a good croup not too divided and not too short, a distinct musculature as well as correct, defined limbs with good joints. The tail should not be set too low. Stallions and mares for breeding should have clearly defined masculine or feminine features.
Haflingers are generally pony-sized standing about 14 hands on the average, although the "modern" variation can reach 15 hands. The desired range however is from 54 in. to 60 in, or 13.5 to 15 hands. Failure to attain the minimum height at 3 years means the animal will be strongly discouraged from breeding. The maximum size may be exceeded if the horse has an excellent or outstanding exterior evaluation.
The most notable characteristic of the Haflinger is its striking coat color; it is always chestnut with a white, or "flaxen," main and tail. Color may range from pale chestnut to dark liver chestnut, but always with pale flaxen mane and tail. The paler, golden versions are often identified as palomino. Color impurities in the base color such as roan, or black spots are undesirable, as are color impurities in the mane and tail, and any excessive color deviations will be considered very negatively and breeding will be strongly discouraged.
Head markings are desirable, but not a prerequisite, although too many markings are undesirable and can end up becoming strongly discouraged for breeding. Leg markings are not desirable and are penalized in the breed standard of the AHR as follows: "One white leg will not be penalized, two white legs will result in a one point deduction, three white legs will result in a two point deduction, and horses with four white legs or white above the knees or hocks will be strongly discouraged from breeding. A white leg is a white sock that extends above the fetlock joint. White markings are signified by a change in skin pigment."
The basic gaits of the Haflinger are distinctive and energetic but smooth. They are rhythmic and swinging, and consist of a 4-beat Walk, a 2-beat trot, and a 3-beat canter. The movements at a walk should be relaxed energetic and elevated. The movements at the trot and gallop should be supple, swinging, light on the feet with a noticeable swinging phase and with a natural suspension. Some knee action is desirable. In particular, the canter should demonstrate a clear forward and upward springing sequence. The horse should have a good long-reaching swinging stride with an elastic gait, showing good impulsion from behind. The stride should be correct, supple and of a pure rhythm without serious faults.
The Haflinger has a Willing, Docile and Uncomplicated temperament. In particular, it has an excellent character without vices or bad habits and an even temperament.
Currently, there are two different types of Haflinger -- a short draft style good for driving or farm work, and a taller, more refined version bred for riding and jumping.
Basically, a Haflinger is a horse with strong character and good-natured. He should be strong all-round and both eager and able to perform, as well as easy to acclimatize to being useful for all purposes. In particular this is true for riding, driving and jumping in the sport sector, but also as a working horse for pulling and carrying.
The Haflinger continues to capture hearts and enrich lives in North America as it has for over two centuries in Austria.